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Flood, wind and fire! – It’s hell down under

February 7, 2011

On an eventful dive excursion to the Great Barrier Reef from Cairns 15 years ago

Some of the best memories from my life so far come from visits to Australia. From the Great Barrier Reef and rainforest of the north-east, down the Gold Coast via Brisbane to the amazing city of Sydney and across to Perth and the wonderful sunset coast of Western Australia. Sadly, all three of these areas have suffered considerable damage in the last month, with Brisbane consumed by surging floodwaters, Cairns – the gateway to the Barrier Reef – and the Reef itself, battered and bruised by cyclone Yasi and now, Black Sunday in Perth as raging bushfires destroy many homes in the Perth Hills – a fantastic, picturesque forest area I visited on a very memorable motorcycle tour less than a year ago.

Fire devastating the forest hillsides I toured around less than a year ago 😦

At times like this, it makes me grateful that I live in a relatively benign part of the world that’s affected rarely by extremes of weather or other dramatic events driven by mother nature. However, as the weather and climate experts try to determine how much of the current extreme weather is an outcome of naturally occurring cycles like El Nino and La Nina and to what degree global warming plays a role, there seems to be an underlying consensus that we should be prepared for the world to become an even more unpredictable environment.

While the sight of those lovely homes, lifestyles and livelihoods in the tinder dry Perth Hills being burned to a cinder is heartbreaking, particularly if it’s proven that arson was to blame for starting the fires in the first place, the drought suffered in the Amazon basin during the last year is much more concerning.

Bushfire aftermath from this week's Perth Now

The Amazon 2010 drought is being described as a once in century event. Unfortunately though, this comes after a similarly catastrophic drought not less than five years ago. Such increasing frequency of drought has been forecast in climate change models but what is more worrying is that these models also emphasise the impact that such repeated droughts could have on climate change tipping points. At present, the Amazon basin is a valuable carbon sink but repeated drought risks the region turning into a greater emitter of CO2 than absorber. A worrying early assessment of the 2010 drought shows the region emitting more CO2 than China and Russia combined.

When the planet’s natural carbon scrubbers stop functioning regularly, what’s being described as ‘Hell’ in the Perth suburbs will look like a wayward ‘barbie’ compared to the massive uncontrollable continental firestorms that could plague our hotter, drier world.

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